As the Black Raven, she’s cold, distant and alone…untouched by the gossip and scorn of her aristocratic peers. Until he enters her house—and her life—then suddenly her icy shell is no match for the heat of attraction…
Notorious Widow Lisbeth Carslake, Countess of Blackhurst was acquitted of her husband’s murder, but no one believes in her innocence. Known as the Black Raven, bringer of bad luck and death, she is eviscerated by the gossips and mocked in the clubs.
She’s also the subject of London’s most scandalous wager.
Oliver Whitely, Earl of Bellamy, needs money, but it takes more than a few drinks to take on The Black Raven Wager. He finds himself drunk, at her house, and—more surprisingly—agreeing to a business proposal at the end of a fire poker.
She will let him win the wager, and he will help find her husband’s killer before the killer finds her. But business agreements don’t mean trust, and Lisbeth certainly doesn’t trust Oliver, her body’s reaction to him, or her heart.
Love may be the biggest gamble of their lives, but is it a wager their hearts can afford to lose?
Publisher and Release Date: Escape Publishing – Escape Publishing, November 2014
Time and Setting: London, 1816
Genre: Romantic historical mystery
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Maria Almaguer
Lisbeth Carslake is the widowed Countess of Blackhurst, infamously and unkindly known as the Black Raven (“the bringer of bad luck and death”). She is vulnerable yet she displays an inner strength and fortitude that has seen her weather the scandal of her husband Nathaniel’s murder. She was accused and acquitted by the courts but, after two years of ostracization, she is isolated beyond belief. She has lived in the shadow of the scandal with bad memories of her terrifying marriage.
She decides to change her life for the better by finding the identity of the killer so that she can clear her good name and live her life free of scandal and debilitating sadness. Her domestic life is comfortable financially, due to the questionable financial speculations Nathaniel was involved in, and she has the support of her loyal servants. I like the way that Ms. Samuels depicts the depth of Lisbeth’s painful psyche. I felt for her but didn’t feel sorry for her and I admire her resolve to make her life better.
War veteran Oliver Whitely, has become the Earl of Bellamy following the death of his older brother, who has left Oliver and the earldom seriously in debt. The new earl is a gentleman trying to hide his need for blunt with a amiable, devil-may-care attitude that is refreshing and amusing. The novel opens with a momentous meeting with Lisbeth when he collects on a handsome wager that no one else has been able to achieve.
Lisbeth proposes an arrangement to Oliver. She will permit him to collect on the many unsavory and outlandish wagers surrounding her if he will escort her to ton events so that she can properly re-enter society after her two year absence. Of course, the ton quickly assumes she and Oliver are lovers especially since Lisbeth is a widow, something that Oliver doesn’t deny and that humorously shocks Lisbeth.
But as Lisbeth spends more time with Oliver, getting to know him, he becomes protective of her and soon discovers her real motive: to find her husband’s killer.
“She wanted to kick him for being so…him. Her reactions to him were strange and varied. One moment she felt safe with him and the next she was all too aware of him and the danger he presented to her. The rest of the time she just wanted to push him off a cliff.”
Oliver is attracted to Lisbeth from the start while she takes a little longer to warm to his teasing, affectionate, and playful nature. Some of the best dialogue in the book is their witty, sometimes biting, and flirtatious banter. She wears the cloak of the strong, serious, and indomitable Black Raven, but Oliver sees through to the friendless and sad woman underneath and he greatly respects her. He also enjoys shocking her with wicked comments and innuendo. But as he learns more about her past, he finds he also wants to love and protect this woman from any danger or unhappiness ever again.
I really like both Oliver and Lisbeth. He’s a carefree, sweet hero and, while he doesn’t make a very good first impression on Lisbeth, he quickly improves. Lisbeth is smart and kind, despite her nightmarish past and Oliver slowly brings her out of her shell with his humor and kindness.
Family is important to both Oliver and Lisbeth and Ms. Samuels depicts these relationships very well. Oliver’s only living relative, his beloved Aunt Petunia, is a dear. She suffers from dementia and is lovingly cared for by a devoted companion. Lisbeth’s parents are both deceased and then she was estranged from her grandmother and beloved sister after her marriage. But when Lisbeth realizes Oliver has suffered just as much loss as she has, she warms to him and slowly opens her heart.
The narrative and dialogue in this short novel is lively, well-paced, and funny despite the tragic circumstances and issues both hero and heroine have faced. Oliver and Lisbeth are likeable and quirky characters. She has an OCD quality about time and schedules that at first irks Oliver but then endears her to him when he learns she uses this to fill her endless days. And Oliver tries to make the best of every situation in such a way that Lisbeth longs to be a part of his sunny world and to share in his light nature. They need each other.
Their romance is engaging and charming and the murder mystery moves along at a steady clip. The villain isn’t obvious until toward the end of the story. My only complaint are the last few chapters when it seems that Oliver and Lisbeth suffer serious miscommunication issues on the way to their happy ending, but this does not slow down the story in any way.
Historical details are plentiful. There is mention of the unique 1816 weather phenomena, known as “the year without a summer,” when unusually cold temperatures drastically affected the economy and also George Scovell and Wellington, real-life figures from Oliver’s past in the army as a codebreaker.
A Scandalous Wager is lovely and well-told story about two endearing, lonely souls who find justice and each other.